First Drive Review: 2011 BMW 520d Touring - VIDEO ENHANCED

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Station wagons, Ho! The Car Americans Don't Want!

By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor

SEE ALSO: BMW Buyers Guide

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MUNICH - When the new BMW 5 Series Sedan arrived at European dealerships by the end of March, it was quite clear that there was a group of customers who were eager to drive the new '5,' but who were nevertheless prepared to wait some six months for the Touring model. In Europe, station wagons (estate cars) are hot: The handling is excellent, they are practical and can seat five persons with their luggage, or you can go to Ikea or the garden center, fold the rear bench forward and load a lot of stuff. Additionally, you are taken more serious if you make business calls in an elegant wagon, rather than when you show up in an SUV or crossover vehicle. Hence, we see lots of estate versions on the roads from the German brands, the French, Swedes, Ford, Opel, and even Jaguar.

In quite some cases more than 50 percent of a models' sales in the segment is on account of the station wagon variant. That is why BMW announced the 5 Series Touring already a couple of weeks before the arrival of the Sedan. To make it absolutely clear that the T-model was coming, soon. In the meantime the 5 Sedan has already been very successful. Since the market launch on March 20, some 13,000 units have been sold and there now is a delivery time of 3 months. "Every second customer wants a Touring," said Dr. Klaus Draeger, BMW's Board member for Research and Development, during a short press conference. "All Touring models of the outgoing generation were sold out three months before the end." The new Touring is of the 4th generation, while the Sedan is in its 6th. In 1991, BMW started offering a touring version of 5 Series, when that was in its third generation. Between then and 1996, some 125,000 units were sold. Sales of the next generation Touring more than doubled and sales of the third again surpassed those of its predecessor.

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Space wagon
The new 5 Touring is just less than an inch longer than the Sedan, but carries a lot more luggage. Behind the rear seats it takes 560 liter, or 19.77 cu.ft and with the rear seats folded down the space can be extended to 1670 liter (58.97 cu.ft.). Folding down is easy. Inside the luggage compartment on both sides is a handle that allows you to lower the back rests simultaneously or separately. There is also a hook to prevent a bag from sliding on the floor and several hooks in the bottom to secure nets or ands. The functionality can be enhanced by an optional luggage compartment package, consisting of a ski and snowboard bag, that fits well into the space under the floor, roof rails, electric tailgate operation and an electrically retractable trailer bar. When you take out the floor, there even is space to take two mountain bikes upright! Now, is that is not practical?

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Fuel sipping diesel engine
Our first drive with the new 5 Series Touring was with the 520d model. It has a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder common rail turbo diesel engine under the aluminium hood. With 185 hp and 280 torque this engine is powerful and above all very fuel efficient. The 520d Touring accelerates in 8. 3 seconds to 62 mph and has a top speed of 138 mpg. More than enough for most European countries to be caught speeding! The average fuel consumption is only 5.1 liter/100 km (an equivalent of 45,9 mpg) in the European cycle, with 135 grams/km CO2 emission. This is thanks to a slew of EfficientDynamics measures that BMW developed for its engines and thanks also to the standard Start/stop function for this model. We drove the 6 speed handshifted gearbox, that works well together with the engine. But we would not mind the 8-speed automatic transmission at all. According to BMW there is no difference in acceleration to 62 mph and the top speed is only 1.2 mph lower. Of course, it is always nice to have a faster engine, such as the 245 hp strong 6-cylinder diesel that has 298 lb.ft of torque or the two gasoline engines in the 535i and the 523i. But let's be honest, there are not many places except from certain stretches of German Autobahn where you can make full use of their potential.

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Right from the start in 1991, the Touring has been equipped with self-levelling technology on the rear axle and so is the new 5 Touring. The station wagon benefits from the new suspension technology used for the sedan, and that has been tuned for the extra weight in the rear. All other systems that we know of the 5 Series sedan are either standard of optional on the Touring. That makes this model again a car that provides "Freude am Fahren" (Joy of Driving) combined with a lot of practicality and sophisticated looks. Its roomy interior is as nicely executed as in the sedan. But I do have one criticism: using the stick shift shows that the center console is too high for a person of my size. Every time I changed gears, my elbow hit the console, forcing me more or less to move my arm between my body and the back rest of the seat, which is not comfortable.

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With the automatic transmission, the problem is not there, as was proven during the first drive with the 5 Sedan. Americans won't have this problem; not because the vehicle is engineered differently for The States, but because the 5 Series station wagon won't be available, not in any engine or transmission variant. Due to lack of popularity with wagons, the 5 Series Touring will not be exported west of Europe. But really, take another look with different eyes and you’ll probably realize what Americans are missing.

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